FLYING THE SPITFIRE: Flying a Circuit
Commonwealth pilots call it a “circuit”. Yanks call it “the traffic pattern”, but they are the same thing. After all, it has been said that America and the Commonwealth are nations separated by a common language. At civilian airfields, virtually everywhere, all flight in close proximity to an airport in preparation to landing and after taking off must be flown in accordance with the local civil aviation authority’s rules; which, while they are usually similar from country to country, may be different where you fly.
Before discussing the specific details of flying a “Spitfire Circuit”, I would like mention a few things about flying in general.
As you probably already know, flying and operating an aeroplane is different in many ways from operating any other vehicle that you may have some experience with, such as an automobile. Most significantly and obviously, there is the extra, third dimension -- the vertical. To many who have no experience flying aeroplanes, this seems not be much of a problem. After all, they may think, you merely pull back on the stick or yoke to go up and push forward on it to go down, right? What’s the big deal?
Well, as pilots know, the big deal is that pulling back and persistently holding back the stick or yoke indeed will, at first raise the nose, and perhaps increase altitude if there is enough power and/or airspeed present at the moment; but if the stick or yoke is held back too hard and too long, the nose will rise too far, airspeed will fall off, the aeroplane will soon stall, perhaps spin (what is that?!), and descend quite dramatically rapidly. Stall? You mean the engine will quit? (they might ask)
Of course, pilots know that that in aeronautical terms a “stall” has nothing to do with the engine, and that it occurs when the angle of attack (alpha) of the wing and the oncoming (relative) air is too great for the wing to continue to create lift. All pilots know that changes of altitude involve power and pitch adjustments as well as careful monitoring of airspeed among other things. To those unfamiliar with aeronautical matters, complete explanations and discussions about aeroplanes and flying techniques sound like some obscure, indecipherable foreign language -- and to them, it is.
I mention this to illustrate a point: We were all once unfamiliar with aeronautical matters. No one is born knowing how to fly an aeroplane, except maybe Dudley. Those who wish to learn will seek education and instruction; and in time, their knowledge base will grow. It doesn’t happen all at once and overnight, but from years of diligent study and practice. No matter what we know, or think we know; if we are wise, we are always in the process of learning.
Flying an aeroplane requires the acquisition of a good deal of very special and specific knowledge that is not available from any other kind of education or experience outside of aviation education. A person may hold a dozen non-aviation related PhD s’, and be able to drive a car with the skill and panache of Jackie Stewart or Mario Andretti; however, one might reasonably speculate upon the tragedy that would likely soon befall this otherwise educated and talented person if, with little or none of this knowledge or training, he or she tried to fly an aeroplane without an experienced pilot on board to show him/her how to do it.
This is similarly true when upgrading from a simple airplane to a more complicated one. A pilot may be able to fly a Cessna 172 or a Piper Cherokee “Archer” with great élan; however, that experience, in and of itself, will not likely be sufficient when it comes to flying, for instance, a Spitfire. Sure, such a pilot may have acquired some aeronautical skills and may have learned the basics of flying; but without special training and study, that pilot will not know any of the very significant particulars that are required in order to safely and properly fly and operate such a powerful and high-performance aeroplane.
In the real-world, pilots whose experience is only with basic aircraft must take special training and pass a rigorous practical examination in order to obtain an endorsement to fly an aeroplane with a tail wheel, to fly a seaplane or a complex aeroplane-- one with a controllable propeller and/or a retractable undercarriage. In order to fly certain larger, heavier, faster, and more powerful aircraft, a pilot must obtain a special “Type Rating” or “Endorsement”. That is, the pilot must obtain special ground and flight training, and demonstrate to the instructor that he or she is proficient in the knowledge required to safely operate and fly the aircraft.
This relates to flying our Spitfire in this way: The A2A Accusim Spitfire, as well as all of the other A2A Accusim aircraft, have been specifically developed and designed to give their pilots as much of the authentic, accurate experience of flying and operating their real-world counterparts as is possible within the parameters and limitations of a PC flight simulator. Accordingly, many pilots, particularly those who are not used to flight-sim aircraft which are so designed, may find that some extra knowledge and effort is required in order to master A2A Accusim aircraft. This is not an accident, and it replicates the experience that flying Cadets have when moving upward from Primary, to Basic, to Advanced, and to Operational training. No Cadet starts out flying Spitfires or P-47s, etc.; although, ironically, some have found that some Basic trainers are actually more aeronautically demanding and more difficult to master.
All of this is by way of saying don’t be discouraged if you have incurred dire consequences after having just jumped into your Spitfire or other A2A Accusim aeroplane and tried to fly it without having read and learned what is in the manuals, as you may have been able to do with some other developers’ flight-sim aeroplanes. What do you think would happen if you tried that with a real-world Spitfire or similar aircraft? What we have here is entirely different from what you may have been used to flying. What we have here are accurately simulated replicas of real-world aircraft.
To get the most satisfactory experience from flying aeroplanes such as our Spitfire, just as in the real-world, pilots must first study and absorb the Accusim Manual and Pilot’s Notes that we have provided. Many, if not all of the answers to most of the questions that pilots who are new to A2A Accusim aircraft pose may be found in the Manuals. In fact, many A2A pilots find that their whole flying experience is more immersive, realistic, and more fun when they first study the Manuals and fly the aircraft with reference to what they contain.
It may be that a pilot simply needs a bit more training and experience flying simpler, less demanding aircraft before tackling aircraft like the Spitfire. Our Piper “Cub” is a great trainer, as is its real-world counterpart. Like all great trainers, it is easy to fly, but not easy to fly really well. If you can truly master the “Cub”, you will be a long way towards where you need to be to comfortably fly more powerful and faster aircraft. Also, the “Cub” is a blast to fly and a lot of fun. (Say hello to Heide for me.)
Of course, our forum is here to provide you with whatever help you may require. There are a number of very experienced real-world pilots there who will respond to your questions and who will work with you. If you are finding it difficult to fly and operate the Spitfire or any A2A aeroplane, don’t give up. We are here to help you, regardless what your prior flying experience may be. Posts like this one have been created to inform, and hopefully, to help you to have a satisfying experience flying our aeroplanes, and to have a lot of fun, too. We have a passion for flight, and we want to share that with you.
What follows is a step-by-step description of a typical 1940’s R.A.F. start-up, engine and aircraft check, takeoff, circuit, landing and shutdown. Of course, the published check lists should be referred to at all times; however what is presented here represents and describes how a high-time Spit pilot who knows the proper drill inside and out might fly and operate the Spitfire. There ought to be no major contradictions between this described procedure and the published checklists and Pilot’s Notes.
For purposes of reference: The aeroplanes flown were a Mk Ia with a De Havilland 2-position propeller, a flat canopy, gross weight- 5337 lbs., petrol octane 87, oil normal; and a Mk IIb with a Rotol constant-speed propeller, a blown canopy, gross weight 5683 lbs., petrol octane 100, oil normal. They were flown on a Standard Day (59º F - 15º C; sea-level to 1,000’; no wind, no turbulence, pressure - 29.92” Hg).
The aircraft and engines were shown to be in excellent shape and logged at less than 10 hours. Both aircraft were entered in a “cold start” condition.
When I learn the ways of a new aeroplane, I try to memorize how each control and switch is supposed to be set when starting, flying, shutdown, etc. Then, upon entering the aeroplane and whilst flying it, I do a left-to-right cockpit drill, leaving nothing out and setting everything according to the parameters stated in the Pilot’s Notes. For the Spitfire Mk I and Mk II, this is the drill:
UPON ENTERING THE COCKPIT
Radiator Shutter- FULLY OPEN
Elevator Trim- 1 DIVISION DOWN
Rudder Trim - NEUTRAL
Propeller - Mk I: COARSE PITCH (plunger forward - in); Mk II: FINE PITCH (lever fully forward)
Mixture - RICH (normal) - Mk I: Lever fully rearward; Mk II: Lever fully forward
Throttle - OPEN TO TURN ON U/C INDICATOR, THEN CRACKED ¼”
Magnetos - BOTH ON
Landing Lights - UP
Brakes - ON
Controls - FREE AND NORMAL
Fuel Cocks - BOTH ON (up)
Starter - FLAP OPEN
Primer - - UNLOCKED
Fuel Tank Gauges - CHECK QUANTITY (Mk II has only a bottom tank gauge)
Mk I: Starting Magneto - ON
Cabin vent – OPEN AS REQUIRED
All other electrical – OFF
Mk I: Check undercarriage pump valve - REARWARD (LOWER)
Mk II: Check undercarriage lever - REARWARD (DOWN)
Check chocks in place, tail held down, Mk I: Trolly acc. connected
Primer- AT LEAST FIVE PUMPS, MORE IF REQUIRED - LEAVE UNLOCKED
Control Column- HELD FULL BACK
Mk I: Starter - PUSH,
Mk II: Check cartridge loaded in breach, if not, load with starboardmost ring grip, PUSH starter button
Primer - PRIME AS NECESSARY UNITL ENGINE CATCHES
(Engine not to turn more than 20 seconds while starting before catching, then wait 30 seconds before trying again)
Throttle - UPON ENGINE CATCHING, BACK TO SMOOTH LOW IDLE
(Open throttle and Prime as needs be to keep engine running)
Check- OIL PRESSURE and FUEL PRESSURE WITHIN NORMAL PARAMETERS
Primer - LOCKED WHEN NO LONGER REQUIRED
Mk I: Starting Magneto - OFF
Lights - AS DESIRED
Pressure Head (Pitot) Heat and other electrical items- ON AS REQUIRED
Altimeter - SET TO FIELD HEIGHT
Directional Gyro – SET
Engine run up when Radiator Temperature is at least 40º:
Mk I: Control Column fully back, Throttle very briefly fully open, Propeller to FINE PITCH (plunger back- out), check at least 6 1/2” Boost, 2500 to 2600 r.p.m., Throttle to 2,200 r.p.m., magnetos individually checked, drop of no more than 160 r.p.m., Propeller to COARSE PITCH- check for r.p.m. drop, then to FINE PITCH, check for r.p.m. increase, throttle to smooth, low idle.
Mk II: Control Column fully back, Throttle very briefly fully open, check least 6 1/2” Boost, 2,600 to 2,800 r.p.m., Throttle to 2,200 r.p.m., magnetos individually checked, drop of no more than 160 r.p.m., Propeller to COARSE PITCH- check for r.p.m. drop, then up to 2,400 r.p.m., close throttle slightly, check that r.p.m. remains at 2,400, then return Propeller to FINE PITCH, throttle to smooth, low idle.
Pneumatic System- FLAPS DOWN THEN UP- CHECK OPERATING NORNALLY
Brakes Pressure - 80-120 lbs.
Fuel Pressure- 2/12 to 3 lb./sq. in.
Harness - FIXED
Brakes Pressure- AT LEAST 80 lbs.
Flaps- CHECK THAT THEY ARE UP
After the engine has started, perform all non-engine related tasks quickly. When the engine is warm enough to run the check, go through the drill quickly so as not to overheat the engine and the cooling system. The engine run-up and check should become second-nature and be able to be performed in less than one minute. Experienced pilots can do it in less than 30 seconds. Running at idle while sitting still or taxiing will not prevent the engine from overheating. Takeoff must occur as soon as possible after engine start. Airspeed and/or cold outside air temperature are the only means of managing the engine’s temperature. Do not take off if radiator temperature exceeds 100º.
When ready to taxi or take off, dismiss the Aircraftmen holding down the tail and wave away chocks.
Mk I: Check that Trolly acc. has been detached and is out of the way.
Hold the control column fully back at all times when on the ground. The Spitfire is nose heavy and may easily tip-up.
When lined up on the runway roll a few feet to straighten the tail wheel. Quickly check all gauges and instruments for normal readings.
The Spitfire’s elevators are very sensitive. Small control column movements will produce large and sudden pitch changes at all airspeeds. When setting a particular airspeed, raise or lower the nose with the control column until that airspeed has been attained and is steady, then trim elevator until control column pressure is eliminated. Always use this method to trim to airspeed; do not trim to pitch.
Still holding the control column fully back and towards any crosswind, slowly open throttle to full power. Check that r.p.m is rising. When you estimate that the aeroplane is rolling at approximately 30 m.p.h., push control column slowly to neutral, but no farther forward. Let the tail rise on its own, do not try to hurry it. Hold as much right rudder as is necessary to keep on the centreline. Gradually reduce crosswind/aileron input, if any, as speed increases. Hold the aeroplane slightly tail-low until lift-off. Do not pull back control column to hurry lift-off.
When indicating a positive rate of climb, close the canopy. With propeller still at FINE PITCH, reduce power to 0 Boost, 2,600 r.p.m. (both Marks). Hold the nose at or slightly above the horizon as the aeroplane accelerates.
Mk I: Push the u/c pump valve control forward to RAISE, begin to pump up the u/c, about 15 strokes until illuminated u/c position indicator reads “UP”. Check both red u/c position rods at forward inner wing are fully retracted and flush with the top of the wing.
Mk II: Push the u/c control lever forward to UP. Check illuminated u/c position indicator reads “UP”. Check both red u/c position rods at forward inner wing are fully retracted and flush with the top of the wing.
Do not permit the airspeed to exceed 160 m.p.h. until u/c is completely up, then accelerate to 180 m.p.h.
When u/c is UP, commence turn to Downwind Leg, climbing at 180 m.p.h.
(0 Boost - 2,600 r.p.m.) = approx. +1,000 f.p.m. (both Marks)
For a more rapid climb if desired, +1 Boost, 2,600 r.p.m. = approx. +1,500 f.p.m. (Both Marks)
These climb rates are normal for circuit practice. When performing tactical missions, full or close to full- throttle climbs are generally required with a careful watch on the radiator temperature.
Climb to 800’ AGL (U.K. - 1940); 1,000’ AGL (U.S. - present day); or whatever the published circuit height for your airfield may be, whilst turning to Downwind leg.
At all times in circuit, maintain a reasonably close proximity to the runway, flying close-in at all times. At the low airspeeds which are flown when in circuit, the radiator does not have sufficient air-flow to keep the coolant from quickly overheating. Fly a curved circuit from takeoff to Downwind leg and from Downwind leg to Final.
APPROACH TO LANDING
When established on the Downwind leg and maintaining the desired height, open the canopy, lower power to idle to reduce airspeed and trim elevator to maintain 160 m.p.h. or less. Do not fly in circuit at less than 120 m.p.h. until on close Final.
In circuit, I keep the radiator shutter fully open at all times. This is a personal preference which I have found helps to keep the engine cool at low airspeed in circuit; however this may be altered to suit the individual pilot.
When indicating 160 m.p.h. or less, lower u/c.
Mk I: Pump one stroke with u/c pump valve at forward, “UP” position, then pull u/c pump valve control rearwards to LOWER, and pump down u/c (approx. 30 strokes) until illuminated u/c indicator reads “DOWN”. Check both red u/c position rods at forward inner wing are fully up.
Mk II: Pull u/c control lever rearwards to DOWN. Check that illuminated u/c position indicator reads “DOWN”. Check both red u/c position rods at forward inner wing are fully up.
The Spitfire pitches down sharply when u/c is lowered. Anticipate this and trim to compensate.
Adjust power and trim to maintain 120 m.p.h., commencing and maintaining a descent of no more than
-500 f.p.m. when abeam the runway threshold. (Remember: Pitch controls airspeed; Power controls rate of descent)
Commence turn to Base/Final leg when runway threshold is approximately 45º behind the wing, maintaining 120 m.p.h. and -500 f.p.m. Adjust pitch and power as necessary.
When on runway heading and when landing is assured, lower flaps. Do not lower flaps if airspeed is higher than 140 m.p.h. Check that flap indicator doors on both rearward, inside wings are up and open. The Spitfire pitches down sharply when the flaps are lowered and becomes moderately unstable in pitch axis. Anticipate this and trim to compensate. Adjusting power accordingly, maintain rate of descent appropriate to alighting on the 1st 1/3 of runway. Adjust airspeed to indicate 80-90 m.p.h. when over the fence.
Commence flair at approx. 10’ above runway, straightening nose and leveling wings just before alighting so as to alight simultaneously on both main wheels when possible.
The Spitfire u/c has a very narrow stance, and the aeroplane may become directionally unstable if one wheel alights before the other. When approaching landing in a crosswind, remove yaw and/or roll crosswind compensation at the last moment before alighting to avoid the possibility of a ground loop.
All landings are to be three-point type (alighting simultaneously on main gear and tail wheel) unless in gusty and/or high winds. In such instance, a slightly tail-low, wheel type landing (alighting on main wheels first) is permitted. Do not attempt a level-type wheel landing as the Spitfire’s level clearance from the propeller tips to the ground is only 7 ½”.
The Spitfire’s long nose ahead of the cockpit which blocks the pilot’s forward vision when the nose is level or above the horizon is, for many, a problem on the landing approach. When trying to line up with
the runway on final, the nose may be distinctly in the way. Unlike aircraft with radial engines, the Spitfire’s engine cowling is rather narrow, owing to the inline Merlin engine. Accordingly, a pilot may be able to see to either side of it with more ease than say the pilot of a P-47 may, owing to that aircraft’s particularly wide radial engine and cowl.
The following is taken and slightly altered for the Spitfire from the A2A Forum a post entitled “Landing the P-47”. As the techniques for landing most of the single-engine W.W. II era piston fighters are very similar, I thought it best not to entirely re-invent the wheel here, so to speak.
Here are some tips I have picked up over the years which I gladly pass on to you:
1. A technique used by experienced Spitfire pilots when landing was to fly a high, curved circuit. That is, enter the circuit at the published altitude, but do not begin to lose altitude until just before turning final, or even on final in some instances. Throttle back and/or raise the nose a little if the airspeed rises too far on approach, and be ready to add a little throttle to help ease the sink rate at the flair. At all times use the throttle to adjust the rate of descent and the pitch to adjust airspeed, keeping the runway where it needs to be in relation to your approach. Don’t get low and slow. If you do, go around and try again. Mieux se retirer que de mourir.
2. Fly a curved circuit as described above, close to the runway so that length of time in the circuit is minimized. The Spitfire will overheat if flown at low true airspeeds (less than 160 m.p.h.) for any significant length of time, depending upon the outside air temperature, the condition of the engine, oil, radiator fluid, etc.
3. A slightly steeper approach (but not dive-bombing) keeps the runway in sight longer. You only have to see the far end of the runway to know where you are in relation to it. It's alright to raise your seat if that helps; it's not cheating if done within reason.
4. Taxiways and other things to the side of the runway are excellent clues to help you orient yourself when landing.
5. A building, tower, landmark, or a slow moving cloud overhead that you may be able to see even when the nose blanks out the field ahead may help.
6. Looking out from the side of the cockpit when landing is common practice in these airplanes, as well.
7. S-turning on approach clears the way ahead just like it does when are taxiing.
8. A crabbed approach (side slip) clears the way ahead, and some very expert pilots prefer this approach. The Spitfire does not particularly like to fly in a crabbed condition, however; so practice this carefully at altitude before trying it on an actual approach.
9. This one is tricky and takes a lot of practice and familiarity with the airplane; but it was common practice among hot fighter jocks in WWII (it’s similar to a curved, pylon-turn carrier approach) -- Approach the runway with full flaps, slightly high, at a slightly higher than normal approach airspeed, 90 degrees to it, aiming at a place just a hundred yards or so from the threshold. When you are fairly close in, dive and turn hard with sufficient power, lining up with the center of the runway, chopping power and leveling off an instant before the main wheels touch down. Whew. I’ve seen films of pilots coming back to England from missions over Europe doing this in P-47s, P-51s, and P-38s; and it’s amazing.
The Spitfire does this kind of approach with unusual aplomb and ease. Once you are familiar with the Spit’s performance and handling at slow speeds and have acquired some facility with it, give his approach a try. It’s historically authentic and challenging.
10. Much less exciting, but safer than the last approach type, ordinary wheel-type landings are often the means to keep the field in sight until the tail came down. Sine the Spitfire’s prop-tip to ground clearance when level is only 7 ½”, do not try to do a level wheel-type landing or you will likely prang the prop, and possibly the whole kite as well. Wheel landings in the Spitfire are done tail low, using the same general pitch attitude as when holding the nose slightly above the horizon whilst taking off.
Experiment with what works for you. You are the Captain of your aircraft, and of your soul. Take charge of both and master them.
It was standard procedure in the R.A.F. and Commonwealth air services to takeoff and land with the canopy open so that in the event of a mishap on the ground, the pilot could get out of the airplane in a hurry, or be taken out if it more quickly and easily.
Lowered flaps significantly block airflow from departing the radiator causing additional heat to build up therein; accordingly, upon firmly alighting and when all wheels are firmly on the ground, immediately raise flaps.
Hold control column fully back at all times when on the ground. When assured that the aeroplane has settled, if the runway is short, gently apply brakes to slow aircraft until at a safe taxiing speed. Normally, braking is not necessary or advised during the landing rollout and should only be used with great caution during the engine run-up before takeoff (with two aircraftmen holding the tail down), to enhance sharp steering, and to aid in positioning the aeroplane at the tie-down. Whilst taxiing, keep throttle slightly open and keep the engine clear with a short blast of power from time-to-time. Taxi as quickly as is safely possible to tie-down, and commence engine shut-down procedure at once.
When stopped, set parking brakes
Throttle - SMOOTH IDLE
Wave in chocks
Both fuel cocks - OFF (down)
Mk I: Throttle briefly to 2,200 r.p.m
Propeller – COARSE (plunger forward - in), then
Throttle - SMOOTH IDLE
It is common practice to shut off the fuel cocks during taxi to tie-down as it requires a few minutes to
use the fuel in the fuel lines. Let engine run at smooth idle for 30 seconds to 1 minute if radiator temperature is sufficiently cool. If radiator temperature is rising and is approaching 100º or is above 100º, shut down engine immediately.
To shut down the engine, pull out low-power cut-off ring grip located next to primer, holding it out until the propeller has stopped rotating. Do not shut engine down by shutting off magnetos and/or by use of the mixture lever.
When engine has stopped, switch off Magnetos, Generator, all lights, radios and all electrical items, including the illuminated u/c position indicator (the switch for this is a button located on the throttle quadrant to starboard of throttle lever).
Set elevator trim to takeoff position.
Flying circuits gives the pilot practice in handling the aeroplane in many of the situations that will confront him or her during the course of flight, save for rapid tactical climbs, high-speed cruising and diving, and aerobatic maneuvering. Circuits and bumps (bump and goes, touch and goes) will permit multiple landings in a relatively short span of time; however, flying circuits to full stop landings will give the pilot practice in landing as well as in ground handling. Practice both types of circuit whenever possible.
During landing approach elevator trim will have been moved to an extreme up position to counter the pitch-down from the lowered u/c and flaps. Whilst doing a bump and go, after alighting and before taking off again, immediately reduce elevator trim to neutral or to one division down so that positive elevator forces will not be too strong during the takeoff.
Note: Radiator temperatures tend to run high when practicing circuits as the Spitfire’s airspeed is relatively slow during same. Watch the radiator temperature gauge carefully.
If you have any questions, suggestions or comments, please post them here.
Last edited by Mitchell - A2A on Mon May 09, 2011 12:02 am, edited 1 time in total.